Category Archives: Commentary

Final Entrance

Now while they were thus drawing towards the gate, behold a company of the heavenly host came out to meet them; to whom it was said, by the other two Shining Ones, These are the men that have loved our Lord when they were in the world, and that have left all for his holy name; and he has sent us to fetch them, and we have brought them thus far on their desired journey, that they may go in and look their Redeemer in the face with joy. Then the heavenly host gave a great shout, saying, “Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb.” There came out also at this time to meet them, several of the King’s trumpeters, clothed in white and shining raiment, who, with melodious noises, and loud, made even the heavens to echo with their sound. These trumpeters saluted Christian and his fellow with ten thousand welcomes from the world; and this they did with shouting, and sound of trumpet.

This done, they compassed them round on every side; some went before, some behind, and some on the right hand, some on the left, (as it were to guard them through the upper regions), continually sounding as they went, with melodious noise, in notes on high: so that the very sight was, to them that could behold it, as if heaven itself was come down to meet them. Thus, therefore, they walked on together; and as they walked, ever and anon these trumpeters, even with joyful sound, would, by mixing their music with looks and gestures, still signify to Christian and his brother, how welcome they were into their company, and with what gladness they came to meet them; and now were these two men, as it were, in heaven, before they came at it, being swallowed up with the sight of angels, and with hearing of their melodious notes. Here also they had the city itself in view, and they thought they heard all the bells therein to ring, to welcome them thereto. But above all, the warm and joyful thoughts that they had about their own dwelling there, with such company, and that for ever and ever. Oh, by what tongue or pen can their glorious joy be expressed! And thus they came up to the gate.

Now, when they were come up to the gate, there was written over it in letters of gold, “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.”

Then I saw in my dream that the Shining Men bid them call at the gate; the which, when they did, some looked from above over the gate, to wit, Enoch, Moses, and Elijah, &c., to whom it was said, These pilgrims are come from the City of Destruction, for the love that they bear to the King of this place; and then the Pilgrims gave in unto them each man his certificate, which they had received in the beginning; those, therefore, were carried in to the King, who, when he had read them, said, Where are the men? To whom it was answered, They are standing without the gate. The King then commanded to open the gate, “That the righteous nation,” said he, “which keeps the truth, may enter in.”

Now I saw in my dream that these two men went in at the gate: and lo, as they entered, they were transfigured, and they had raiment put on that shone like gold. There was also that met them with harps and crowns, and gave them to them—the harps to praise withal, and the crowns in token of honor. Then I heard in my dream that all the bells in the city rang again for joy, and that it was said unto them, “Enter ye into the joy of your Lord.” I also heard the men themselves, that they sang with a loud voice, saying, “Blessing and Honor, and Glory, and Power, be unto Him that sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever.”

Now, just as the gates were opened to let in the men, I looked in after them, and, behold, the City shone like the sun; the streets also were paved with gold, and in them walked many men, with crowns on their heads, palms in their hands, and golden harps to sing praises withal.

There were also of them that had wings, and they answered one another without intermission, saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord.” And after that they shut up the gates; which, when I had seen, I wished myself among them.

Entrance into the Celestial City

As Christian and Hopeful enter into glory, they are greeted by “a company of the heavenly host.” In heaven we will join those in the faith who have gone before us. We will be united in the presence of Christ.

We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8).

We will see the face of our Redeemer with joy and be made like Him.

Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. (1 John 3:2).

The pilgrims are identified as those who have loved the Lord while in this world, those who “have left all for his holy name,” echoing Peter’s words:

Then Peter began to say to Him, “See, we have left all and followed You” (Mark 10:28).

The City is filled with the sound of a great multitude praising God. The music is melodious, joyful, and welcoming. They hear the summons inviting them to celebration and feasting at the marriage supper of the Lamb.

And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, “Write: Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!” And he said to me, “These are the true sayings of God” (Revelation 19:6–9).

At the Gate, Christian and Hopeful see saints of old looking down from above. Earlier in the allegory, at the House of the Interpreter, when Christian went into the room with the Stately Palace, he “saw also upon the top thereof certain persons walking, who were clothed all in gold.” “Christian was greatly delighted” with the lesson from God’s Word, but at that time, the promise of eternal reward was a future hope believed by faith. Now his hope is realized. His journey is complete. Here to welcome him are saints who on earth walked by faith, but now “looked from above over the gate.”Bunyan lists a few of their names: Enoch (Hebrews 11:5), Moses (Matthew 17:3; Hebrews 11:23–29), and Elijah (Matthew 17:3; James 5:17–18).

The pilgrims see inscribed on the Gate the words of Scripture:

Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city (Revelation 22:14).

In some translations this verse reads: “Blessed are those who wash their robes…” The blessing is for those who have come to Christ for forgiveness and cleansing, those who have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14). The translation quoted by Bunyan ties faith to obedience. Faith without works is dead (James 2:17). Of those desiring to enter the kingdom of heaven, Jesus warned in Matthew 7—

Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven (Matthew 7:21).

At the Gate each pilgrim presents his certificate for entrance into the city. The certificate is their evidence of faith in Christ Jesus sealed by the work of the Spirit. Only those who have rested their faith in the Lord Jesus and believed in His name can be saved.

… if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9).

Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).

This certificate is the roll Christian received from the Shining One at the cross. He was told that “he should give it in at the Celestial Gate.” Bunyan explains that “this roll was the assurance of his life and acceptance at the desired haven. Though Christian lost his roll for a time when he slept at the Arbor on Hill Difficulty (his faith wavered and his assurance was shaken), the roll was recovered (God restored his hope and strengthened his faith to press on).

Later in the story Christian told Hopeful of another pilgrim who struggled on the journey. Little-faith, though he was robbed, did not lose his certificate to gain entrance to the Celestial City. Thieves stole his coin purse (his spiritual comfort and peace of mind in this life), but by God’s kind providence they missedtaking “that good thing”—his certificate. Though our faith be weak and small, we can be assured—God will not lose one for whom Christ has died.

When the Gates are opened by order of the King, Christian and Hopeful hear the opening words of the Song of Salvation in Isaiah 26:

In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:
“We have a strong city;
God will appoint salvation for walls and bulwarks.
Open the gates,
That the righteous nation which keeps the truth may enter in.
You will keep him in perfect peace,
Whose mind is stayed on You,
Because he trusts in You.
Trust in the Lord forever,
For in Yah, the Lord, is everlasting strength.
(Isaiah 26:1–4)

They are transfigured and “had raiment put on that shone like gold.”

And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints (Revelation 19:8).

So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:42–44).

Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality (1 Corinthians 15:50–53).

This transformation signals final victory over death!

So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

“O Death, where is your sting?
O Hades, where is your victory?”

The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:54–58).

And they hear the words of their Lord, welcoming them:

“Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matthew 25:21 and 23).

The City is filled with joyful songs of worship before the throne.

Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice:

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
To receive power and riches and wisdom,
And strength and honor and glory and blessing!”

And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying:

“Blessing and honor and glory and power
Be to Him who sits on the throne,
And to the Lamb, forever and ever!”

Then the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever (Revelation 5:11–14).

Bunyan, telling the story, hears the unending chorus of “Holy, Holy, Holy” as the Gates are closed.

The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying:

“Holy, holy, holy,
Lord God Almighty,
Who was and is and is to come!”

Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying:

“You are worthy, O Lord,
To receive glory and honor and power;
For You created all things,
And by Your will they exist and were created.”
(Revelation 4:8–11)

Words can hardly express the “glorious joy” that will be ours in heaven. Concluding his account of Christian and Hopeful entering into glory, Bunyan adds, “when I had seen, I wished myself among them.”

He who testifies to these things says,
“Surely I am coming quickly.”
Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!
(Revelation 22:20)

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2019 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

The Celestial City

The talk they had with the Shining Ones was about the glory of the place; who told them that the beauty and glory of it was inexpressible. There, said they, is the Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, the innumerable company of angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect. You are going now, said they, to the paradise of God, wherein you shall see the tree of life, and eat of the never-fading fruits thereof; and when you come there, you shall have white robes given you, and your walk and talk shall be every day with the King, even all the days of eternity. There you shall not see again such things as you saw when you were in the lower region upon the earth, to wit, sorrow, sickness, affliction, and death, for the former things are passed away. You are now going to Abraham, to Isaac, and Jacob, and to the prophets—men that God has taken away from the evil to come, and that are now resting upon their beds, each one walking in his righteousness. The men then asked, What must we do in the holy place? To whom it was answered, You must there receive the comforts of all your toil, and have joy for all your sorrow; you must reap what you have sown, even the fruit of all your prayers, and tears, and sufferings for the King by the way. In that place you must wear crowns of gold, and enjoy the perpetual sight and vision of the Holy One, for there you shall see him as he is. There also you shall serve him continually with praise, with shouting, and thanksgiving, whom you desired to serve in the world, though with much difficulty, because of the infirmity of your flesh. There your eyes shall be delighted with seeing, and your ears with hearing the pleasant voice of the Mighty One. There you shall enjoy your friends again that are gone thither before you; and there you shall with joy receive, even every one that follows into the holy place after you. There also shall you be clothed with glory and majesty, and put into an equipage fit to ride out with the King of Glory. When he shall come with sound of trumpet in the clouds, as upon the wings of the wind, you shall come with him; and when he shall sit upon the throne of judgment; you shall sit by him; yea, and when he shall pass sentence upon all the workers of iniquity, let them be angels or men, you also shall have a voice in that judgment, because they were his and your enemies. Also, when he shall again return to the city, you shall go too, with sound of trumpet, and be ever with him.

The Celestial City

At last Christian and Hopeful have arrived at the Gates to the Celestial City. The city represents heaven, where all who have found rest and refuge in Christ will complete their journey and find eternal joy in His presence. The pilgrims have long looked forward to the day when they would finally reach their destination and see with their eyes what they sought by faith. The Shining Ones “told them that the beauty and glory of it was inexpressible.” For those of us who are still on the journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City, it is impossible to fully grasp and describe the splendor of heaven. Bunyan, however, provides a glimpse of its wonder.

The pilgrims talk with the Shining Ones “about the glory of the place.” Their discussion is not wistful conjecture or mere speculation. Bunyan again points us to Scripture. What we know of heaven for certain is only what God has revealed to us in His Word. Through the testimony of the Shining Ones, Bunyan weaves together several verses that offer a foretaste of the joy that awaits us.

In heaven the church, that Christ has redeemed “out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9) is brought near and gathered in His presence. The people of God are one body (Ephesians 2:16, 4:4; Colossians 3:15), one “holy nation” (Exodus 19:6, 1 Peter 2:9). Throughout history they have been scattered and separated by time and space, divided by language and custom, fragmented by denomination and polity. But in heaven distinctions will fade and divisions will dissolve. The “spirits of just men made perfect” will all be one in praising and adoring their Savior.

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel (Hebrews 12:22–24).

Heaven is “the paradise of God, wherein you shall see the tree of life, and eat of the never-fading fruits thereof.”

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God (Revelation 2:7).

And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:1–2).

We will be clothed in white (dressed in righteousness) and will walk and talk with the King.

You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy (Revelation 3:4).

Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads (Revelation 4:4).

Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God (Revelation 21:1–3).

We will be freed from sin’s presence as well as its curse and condemnation. There will be no more sorrow, sickness, affliction, or death.

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
And come to Zion with singing,
With everlasting joy on their heads.
They shall obtain joy and gladness,
And sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
(Isaiah 35:10)

For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth;
And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create;
For behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing,
And her people a joy.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
And joy in My people;
The voice of weeping shall no longer be heard in her,
Nor the voice of crying.
(Isaiah 65:17–19)

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:4).

We will rejoice to see and hear and serve the Mighty One of Israel.

You shall have a song
As in the night when a holy festival is kept,
And gladness of heart as when one goes with a flute,
To come into the mountain of the Lord,
To the Mighty One of Israel.
(Isaiah 30:29)

And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads (Revelation 22:3–4).

We will be reunited with friends and loved ones who have gone on before us. We will enjoy fellowship with saints of old who are ““now resting upon their beds” and walking in righteousness.

The righteous perishes,
And no man takes it to heart;
Merciful men are taken away,
While no one considers
That the righteous is taken away from evil.
He shall enter into peace;
They shall rest in their beds,
Each one walking in his uprightness.
(Isaiah 57:1–2)

And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 8:11).

In heaven we will enjoy our eternal reward. We will rest from the toils and sorrows on earth and reap the fruit of what we have sown.

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life (Galatians 6:7–8).

Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them” (Revelation 14:13).

We will be clothed with glory and equipped to accompany the King of Kings when He comes again at the sound of a trumpet.

Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed (1 Corinthians 15:51–52).

And we will rule, and reign, and judge with Him.

I watched till thrones were put in place,
And the Ancient of Days was seated;
His garment was white as snow,
And the hair of His head was like pure wool.
His throne was a fiery flame,
Its wheels a burning fire;
A fiery stream issued
And came forth from before Him.
A thousand thousands ministered to Him;
Ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him.
The court was seated,
And the books were opened.
(Daniel 7:9–10)

Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men also, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him” (Jude 14–15).

Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? (1 Corinthians 6:2–3).

There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever (Revelation 22:5).

Best of all, we will be in the presence of the King of Glory and we will “always be with the Lord.”

Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure (1 John 3:2–3).

But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18).

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2019 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Welcomed at the Gate

Then I saw in my dream, that Christian was as in a muse a while. To whom also Hopeful added this word, Be of good cheer, Jesus Christ makes you whole; and with that Christian broke out with a loud voice, Oh, I see him again! and he tells me, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.” Then they both took courage, and the enemy was after that as still as a stone, until they were gone over. Christian therefore presently found ground to stand upon, and so it followed that the rest of the river was but shallow. Thus they got over.

Now, upon the bank of the river, on the other side, they saw the two shining men again, who there waited for them; wherefore, being come out of the river, they saluted them, saying, We are ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for those that shall be heirs of salvation. Thus they went along towards the gate.

Now you must note that the city stood upon a mighty hill, but the Pilgrims went up that hill with ease, because they had these two men to lead them up by the arms; also, they had left their mortal garments behind them in the river, for though they went in with them, they came out without them. They, therefore, went up here with much agility and speed, though the foundation upon which the city was framed was higher than the clouds. They therefore went up through the regions of the air, sweetly talking as they went, being comforted, because they safely got over the river, and had such glorious companions to attend them.

Now, now, look how the holy pilgrims ride,
Clouds are their chariots, angels are their guide:
Who would not here for him all hazards run,
That thus provides for his when this world’s done?

Over the River

As Christian struggles to cross the River, he is “in a muse.” Facing death causes him deep concern and consternation. He ponders his life and his thoughts are troubled with fears, regrets, doubts, and dismay. But Christian is calmed by two valuable comforts:

  1. He is encouraged by Hopeful, who stays near him, cheers his soul, and points him to Christ.
  2. He remembers the Word of God. It is hidden in his heart (Psalm 119:11) and now shines forth to clear and cleanse his thinking. He recalls the promise in Isaiah 43:

But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name;
You are Mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you.”
(Isaiah 43:1–2)

O that God would grant us such comforts! Remembrance of His Word and godly friends who will keep that Word before our eyes and in our ears—these can help keep our head above the fearful tide. These can be ours—in times of trouble and trial, even in our final moments of life on earth, but we must cultivate and cherish these comforts. Don’t take them for granted or assume you will have them in your hour of need. Invest time in studying, understanding, and memorizing Scripture. And invest time in cultivating Christian friendships—brothers and sisters who will pray for you, hold you accountable, and speak God’s Word into your life.

One of the most significant themes in The Pilgrim’s Progress is the preeminence of God’s Word. Too often we fail to realize its worth! On our journey from the City of Destruction (this present sinful world) to the Celestial City (the glorious world to come), it is our invaluable guide and indispensable comfort. Over and over Bunyan highlights just how essential Scripture is to our spiritual life and well-being.

And now, as Christian experiences death, God’s Word is his comfort that instills courage and causes the enemy to be “still as a stone.”

Fear and dread will fall on them;
By the greatness of Your arm
They will be as still as a stone,
Till Your people pass over, O Lord,
Till the people pass over
Whom You have purchased.
(Exodus 15:16)

Scripture again, as it did in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, warms Christian’s heart and lights his way. He is able to find ground to stand on. He and Hopeful make it safely over the river.

On the bank of the River the two pilgrims are greeted again and welcomed by the Shining Ones. The Shining Ones identify themselves as “ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14). Christian and Hopeful are now ushered by angels to their final destination—the City whose foundation sits “higher than the clouds.”

But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:16).

They shed the final remnants of corruption and put on immortality, having conquered death through the power of Christ Jesus.

For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

“O Death, where is your sting?
O Hades, where is your victory?”

The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:53–57).

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2019 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

The River of Death

Now, I further saw, that between them and the gate was a river, but there was no bridge to go over: the river was very deep. At the sight, therefore, of this river, the Pilgrims were much stunned; but the men that went in with them said, You must go through, or you cannot come at the gate.

The Pilgrims then began to inquire if there was no other way to the gate; to which they answered, Yes; but there hath not any, save two, to wit, Enoch and Elijah, been permitted to tread that path since the foundation of the world, nor shall, until the last trumpet shall sound. The Pilgrims then, especially Christian, began to despond in their minds, and looked this way and that, but no way could be found by them by which they might escape the river. Then they asked the men if the waters were all of a depth. They said: No; yet they could not help them in that case; for, said they, you shall find it deeper or shallower as you believe in the King of the place.

They then addressed themselves to the water and, entering, Christian began to sink, and crying out to his good friend Hopeful, he said, I sink in deep waters; the billows go over my head, all his waves go over me! Selah.

Then said the other, Be of good cheer, my brother, I feel the bottom, and it is good. Then said Christian, Ah! my friend, the sorrows of death have compassed me about; I shall not see the land that flows with milk and honey; and with that a great darkness and horror fell upon Christian, so that he could not see before him. Also here he in great measure lost his senses, so that he could neither remember nor orderly talk of any of those sweet refreshments that he had met with in the way of his pilgrimage. But all the words that he spoke still tended to discover that he had horror of mind, and heart fears that he should die in that river, and never obtain entrance in at the gate. Here also, as they that stood by perceived, he was much in the troublesome thoughts of the sins that he had committed, both since and before he began to be a pilgrim. It was also observed that he was troubled with apparitions of hobgoblins and evil spirits, for ever and anon he would intimate so much by words. Hopeful, therefore, here had much ado to keep his brother’s head above water; yea, sometimes he would be quite gone down, and then, ere a while, he would rise up again half dead. Hopeful also would endeavor to comfort him, saying, Brother, I see the gate, and men standing by to receive us: but Christian would answer, It is you, it is you they wait for; you have been Hopeful ever since I knew you. And so have you, said he to Christian. Ah! brother! said he, surely if I was right he would now arise to help me; but for my sins he has brought me into the snare, and has left me. Then said Hopeful, My brother, you have quite forgot the text, where it is said of the wicked, “There are no bands in their death, but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men, neither are they plagued like other men. These troubles and distresses that you go through in these waters are no sign that God hath forsaken you; but are sent to try you, whether you will call to mind that which heretofore you have received of his goodness, and live upon him in your distresses.

Christian and Hopeful Crossing the RiverChristian and Hopeful are now nearing the end of their journey. They are within sight of the Celestial City, but one great barrier separates them from the Gate. They face a deep and foreboding river. The River represents death—the “last enemy” —and the pilgrims must cross it before they can gain entrance into the city.

“The last enemy that will be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26).

The river appears daunting and formidable. Christian and Hopeful are both stunned. They begin to despond when they see no way around it and no bridge to cross it; there is no way to escape death. When they ask if there is any other way to the Gate, they are told, “Yes”! But Scripture speaks of only two who did not die but were translated to glory: Enoch and Elijah.

So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him (Genesis 5:23–24).

By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, “and was not found, because God had taken him”; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God (Hebrews 11:5).

Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven (2 Kings 2:11).

Apart from these two, only those who are alive at Christ’s second coming will not taste death:

Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed (1 Corinthians 15:51–52).

The pilgrims now realize that death is unavoidable. As they prepare to enter the water, they are encouraged and accompanied by the Shining Ones. Throughout the allegory the Shining Ones represent God’s work of grace in heart. In the country of Beulah these servants of the King walk and minister openly. They are sent to guide pilgrims in the final steps of the journey. The Shining Ones inform the pilgrims that the river will be shallow or deep depending on their faith. As the pilgrims enter the River, we see indeed that they experience death differently.

Christian is in great turmoil. His pride has long been his greatest obstacle, and even in death, his thoughts are of himself. He remembers his sins and ponders his failings. He begins to sink and cry out in distress. His words are taken from the laments of David:

Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls;
All Your waves and billows have gone over me.
(Psalm 42:7)

Save me, O God!
For the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire,
Where there is no standing;
I have come into deep waters,
Where the floods overflow me.
(Psalm 69:1–2)

Deliver me out of the mire,
And let me not sink;
Let me be delivered from those who hate me,
And out of the deep waters.
Let not the floodwater overflow me,
Nor let the deep swallow me up;
And let not the pit shut its mouth on me.
(Psalm 69:14–15)

When the waves of death surrounded me,
The floods of ungodliness made me afraid.
The sorrows of Sheol surrounded me;
The snares of death confronted me.
(2 Samuel 22:5–6)

The pains of death surrounded me,
And the pangs of Sheol laid hold of me;
I found trouble and sorrow.
(Psalm 116:3)

For Christian, death is a great trial. Doubts that he believed were long past, flood his soul again.  Fears engulf him—fears he will never make it to the Celestial City. The foes he faced earlier in the Valley of the Shadow of Death (that had all but vanished in the country of Beulah) now return and seek to pull him under.

But Hopeful is full of hope. He finds the river much shallower and, unlike Christian, walks across with firm footing. He keeps his head above the waves and sees the Gate when Christian is unable. Once again, it is God’s kindness that Christian and Hopeful walk together. Hopeful’s thoughts are of Christ. Even in death, Hopeful encourages his brother and points him to the Savior and to the promise of eternal life. Hopeful reminds Christian of Scripture and tells him that even the trial he is facing in death is an indication of God’s grace at work. Unlike the wicked who will be cast away, Christian is concerned for his soul, distressed by his doubts, and troubled by his sin.

But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled;
My steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the boastful,
When I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
For there are no pangs in their death,
But their strength is firm.
They are not in trouble as other men,
Nor are they plagued like other men.
(Psalm 73:2–5)

It is a mark of grace that Christian is not in anguish over the loss of this world. Rather, he grieves his lack of faith and holiness.

Every true pilgrim who sets out for the Celestial City will complete the journey. God will do everything necessary to bring us home to glory.

being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6).

But our awareness of His grace as we near the end of life and experience death will be strengthened or weakened by our faith, as we “believe in the King of the place.” We must exercise our faith now. We must learn to walk by faith, not by sight, and be grateful for every circumstance and providence that keeps us pointed to Christ and oriented toward eternity. This requires a radical shift in our thinking. Too often we value what profits us little and spurn what God can use for our good. It is a paradox that what we consider to be an advantage in this life can actually hinder us (if it distracts us from trusting in Christ). And what we consider to be a disadvantage in this life can actually help us (if it makes us more mindful of our need for Christ). What this world most prizes—status, privilege, wealth, youth and vigor—are things that bind us to this life. Sadly, they can prevent us from looking to Christ and yearning for the life to come. But what the world most fears—hardship, illness, poverty, old age and frailty—are things that cause us to grow weary of this life. Thankfully, they can serve us, if they teach us to value Christ and yearn more for the life to come.

Those most at home in this world will have the hardest time leaving it. It is difficult to face death when you are clinging tenaciously to the world. Those least encumbered by the world will have an easier time leaving it. When we realize that Christ and His promises—which for now are unseen (seen only with the eyes of faith)—are more real and more valuable than anything the world can offer, then we can greet death not as an enemy but as an entrance to glory.

The River

Lord, we pray for those now crossing
Through the River, death’s cold tide.
Help them through its flowing current,
Bring them safe on Canaan’s side.

(from A Prayer for Pilgrims)

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2019 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Met by the Gardener

But, being a little strengthened, and better able to bear their sickness, they walked on their way, and came yet nearer and nearer, where were orchards, vineyards, and gardens, and their gates opened into the highway. Now, as they came up to these places, behold the gardener stood in the way, to whom the Pilgrims said, Whose goodly vineyards and gardens are these? He answered, They are the King’s, and are planted here for his own delight, and also for the solace of pilgrims. So the gardener had them into the vineyards, and bid them refresh themselves with the dainties. He also showed them there the King’s walks, and the arbors where he delighted to be; and here they tarried and slept.

Now I beheld in my dream that they talked more in their sleep at this time than ever they did in all their journey; and being in a muse thereabout, the gardener said even to me, Wherefore do you muse at the matter? It is the nature of the fruit of the grapes of these vineyards to go down so sweetly as to cause the lips of them that are asleep to speak.

So I saw that when they awoke, they addressed themselves to go up to the city; but, as I said, the reflection of the sun upon the city (for the city was pure gold) was so extremely glorious that they could not, as yet, with open face behold it, but through an instrument made for that purpose. So I saw, that as I went on, there met them two men, in raiment that shone like gold; also their faces shone as the light.

These men asked the Pilgrims whence they came; and they told them. They also asked them where they had lodged, what difficulties and dangers, what comforts and pleasures they had met in the way; and they told them. Then said the men that met them, You have but two difficulties more to meet with, and then you are in the city.

Christian then, and his companion, asked the men to go along with them; so they told them they would. But, said they, you must obtain it by your own faith. So I saw in my dream that they went on together, until they came in sight of the gate.

Met by the Gardener

The country of Beulah is a bountiful place, filled with “orchards, vineyards, and gardens” all kindly planted by the King for “his own delight, and also for the solace of pilgrims.”These gracious provisions are a welcome sight to Christian and Hopeful. They are nearing the end of their journey, preparing for death. As they continue on the Way through the country of Beulah, they are soon met by the Gardener. The Gardener takes them into the King’s gardens and vineyards and encourages them to eat and drink and be refreshed. The Gardener’s words echo the kindness and benevolence that Israel was to show when they crossed over into the Promised Land:

When you come into your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat your fill of grapes at your pleasure, but you shall not put any in your container. When you come into your neighbor’s standing grain, you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not use a sickle on your neighbor’s standing grain (Deuteronomy 23:24–25).

The Gardener also shows them the King’s walks (the right way to go) and the King’s arbors (where they can find rest). It is possible that the Gardener, like Watchful at Palace Beautiful, the Shepherds in the Delectable Mountains, and Great-Grace on the King’s Highway, represents another needed aspect of pastoral ministry. The pastor is a great comfort and help to those in the flock who are on the brink of heaven. He encourages them with God’s promises, feeds them with God’s Word, and prays for them that they will end well. But just as the shepherds have a “Chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:4), who is the “Lord Jesus,” the “great Shepherd of the sheep” (Hebrews 13:20), Scripture reminds us that there is but one Prime Gardener.

It was God who planted the first garden:

The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food (Genesis 2:8–9).

When Israel prepared to enter the Promised Land, Moses described it as a garden cared for by God.

Therefore you shall keep every commandment which I command you today, that you may be strong, and go in and possess the land which you cross over to possess, and that you may prolong your days in the land which the Lord swore to give your fathers, to them and their descendants, a land flowing with milk and honey. For the land which you go to possess is not like the land of Egypt from which you have come, where you sowed your seed and watered it by foot, as a vegetable garden; but the land which you cross over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water from the rain of heaven, a land for which the Lord your God cares; the eyes of the Lord your God are always on it, from the beginning of the year to the very end of the year (Deuteronomy 11:8–12).

Isaiah looked forward to the day when the Lord will restore Zion as a fruitful garden:

For the Lord will comfort Zion,
He will comfort all her waste places;
He will make her wilderness like Eden,
And her desert like the garden of the Lord;
Joy and gladness will be found in it,
Thanksgiving and the voice of melody.
(Isaiah 51:3)

In the Song of Solomon (where Bunyan draws much of his imagery for the land of Beulah), the King is the Gardener. He is the Beloved One who feeds “his flock in the gardens.”

My beloved has gone to his garden,
To the beds of spices,
To feed his flock in the gardens,
And to gather lilies.
I am my beloved’s,
And my beloved is mine.
He feeds his flock among the lilies.
(Song of Solomon 6:2–3)

After Jesus was crucified, He was laid in a nearby tomb in a garden.

Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So there they laid Jesus, because of the Jews’ Preparation Day, for the tomb was nearby (John 19:41–42).

And when He rose again, Mary Magdalene, the first to see Him, supposed Him to be the gardener.

But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. Then they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, “Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him, “Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher). (John 20:11–16)

In the country of Beulah, the Gardener stands in the Way near the journey’s end to see that pilgrims make it safely home. The Lord considers the death of His saints as precious.

Precious in the sight of the Lord
Is the death of His saints.
(Psalm 116:15)

As they near the end of their journey in this life, He is near providing all they need.

As Christian and Hopeful near death, they continue their love-sickness (longing for heaven). Bunyan uses more imagery from the Song of Solomon to express their desire to depart this life and be with Christ.

The wine goes down smoothly for my beloved,
Moving gently the lips of sleepers.
I am my beloved’s,
And his desire is toward me.
(Song of Solomon 9b–10)

As Christian and Hopeful prepare to enter the Celestial City and complete their journey, they are met by two Shining Ones. The Shining Ones question them and tell them they have only two more difficulties left: getting across the River (experiencing death) and getting through the Gates of the City (entering heaven).

The City is made of “pure gold” (Revelation 21:18) and the pilgrims cannot look upon it “but through an instrument made for that purpose” (we see the glory of heaven in Scripture through the eyes of faith). In this life we can gaze upon God’s glory but dimly, as through a mirror. But one day we ourselves will be glorified and we will see Him “face to face.”

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known (1 Corinthians 13:12).

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18).

In this life we long for heaven—we desire to be with Christ. We long to be freed, not only from the curse and condemnation of sin, but from its very presence and power. We desire to be like Christ. One day “we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”

Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure (1 John 3:2-3).

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2019 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

The Land of Beulah

Now I saw in my dream, that by this time the Pilgrims were got over the Enchanted Ground, and entering into the country of Beulah, whose air was very sweet and pleasant, the way lying directly through it, they solaced themselves there for a season. Yea, here they heard continually the singing of birds, and saw every day the flowers appear on the earth, and heard the voice of the turtle in the land. In this country the sun shines night and day; wherefore this was beyond the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and also out of the reach of Giant Despair, neither could they from this place so much as see Doubting Castle. Here they were within sight of the city they were going to, also here met them some of the inhabitants thereof; for in this land the Shining Ones commonly walked, because it was upon the borders of heaven. In this land also, the contract between the bride and the bridegroom was renewed; yea, here, “As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so did their God rejoice over them.” Here they had no want of corn and wine; for in this place they met with abundance of what they had sought for in all their pilgrimage. Here they heard voices from out of the city, loud voices, saying, “‘Say ye to the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy salvation cometh! Behold, his reward is with him!’ Here all the inhabitants of the country called them, ‘The holy people, The redeemed of the Lord, Sought out'”, etc.

Now as they walked in this land, they had more rejoicing than in parts more remote from the kingdom to which they were bound; and drawing near to the city, they had yet a more perfect view thereof. It was built of pearls and precious stones, also the street thereof was paved with gold; so that by reason of the natural glory of the city, and the reflection of the sunbeams upon it, Christian with desire fell sick; Hopeful also had a fit or two of the same disease. Wherefore, here they lay by it a while, crying out, because of their pangs, If you find my beloved, tell him that I am sick of love.

The Land of Beulah

After a long journey through the Enchanted Ground, the pilgrims arrive in the country of Beulah. Beulah is a refreshing contrast to the wearisome terrain that Christian and Hopeful have just endured. In the Enchanted Ground the air “tended to make one drowsy,” but here the air is “sweet and pleasant.” The Enchanted Ground represents our tendency to become spiritually complacent and fatigued. It is the world wearing us down in weariness—the seemingly endless struggle with temptations and trials that we face day after day. The country of Beulah represents our longing for heaven and desire to be with Jesus. It is the vision of our heavenly home lifting us up in hope—the glorious promise of eternal joy in the presence of Christ.

Beulah means married. The country is a reminder of Christ’s love for and His covenant relationship with His church (Jeremiah 31:31; Matthew 26:28; 1 Corinthians 11:25; Hebrews 9:15, 12:24).  The church is the bride of Christ (Revelation 21:9). The relationship of the church to Christ is depicted in Scripture as a marriage (Ephesians 5:22–33, Revelation 19:7–9; 21:9).

Bunyan borrows language from Scripture to describe the beauty of the land—Christ’s nearness and love for His people. In the Song of Solomon, the King calls to His beloved:

My beloved spoke, and said to me:
“Rise up, my love, my fair one,
And come away.
For lo, the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth;
The time of singing has come,
And the voice of the turtledove
Is heard in our land.”
(Song of Solomon 2:10–12)

Bunyan also draws language from Isaiah’s prophesy of the future glory of Israel with the coming of the Messiah.

You shall no longer be termed Forsaken,
Nor shall your land any more be termed Desolate;
But you shall be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah;
For the Lord delights in you,
And your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a virgin,
So shall your sons marry you;
And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
So shall your God rejoice over you.
(Isaiah 62:4–5)

In Beulah there is an abundance of provision.

The Lord has sworn by His right hand
And by the arm of His strength:
“Surely I will no longer give your grain
As food for your enemies;
And the sons of the foreigner shall not drink your new wine,
For which you have labored.
But those who have gathered it shall eat it,
And praise the Lord;
Those who have brought it together shall drink it in My holy courts.”
(Isaiah 62:8–9)

Here the inhabitants of Zion (the people of God) are called “the Holy People, the Redeemed of the Lord,” and “Sought Out.”

Indeed the Lord has proclaimed
To the end of the world:
“Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Surely your salvation is coming;
Behold, His reward is with Him,
And His work before Him.’ ”
And they shall call them The Holy People,
The Redeemed of the Lord;
And you shall be called Sought Out,
A City Not Forsaken.
(Isaiah 62:11–12)

The country of Beulah provides the pilgrims “a more perfect view” of their final destination, the Celestial City. What Christian and Hopeful saw in the distance from a Hill called Clear in the Delectable Mountains when they were with the Shepherds, now they see in more radiant splendor.

Their view of the city is John’s vision of the New Jerusalem (the bride of Christ) in the book of Revelation. Bunyan makes clear that what we know about heaven, we know through God’s revelation in His Word.

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal. Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west.

Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. And he who talked with me had a gold reed to measure the city, its gates, and its wall. The city is laid out as a square; its length is as great as its breadth. And he measured the city with the reed: twelve thousand furlongs. Its length, breadth, and height are equal. Then he measured its wall: one hundred and forty-four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel. The construction of its wall was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones: the first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth sardius, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass (Revelation 21:9–21).

Both Christian and Hopeful are dazzled by the site of the city and overwhelmed with wonder. Both fall sick with love. Their love-sickness represents a longing to be with Christ. This longing is seen in Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi.

For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better (Philippians 1:21–23).

And it is echoed in the words of the bride in Song of Solomon:

I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
If you find my beloved,
That you tell him I am lovesick!
(Song of Solomon 5:8)

The land of Beulah provides the closest and clearest glimpses of glory. Here “on the borders of heaven” saints are “within sight of the city.” They look forward with eagerness to the day when they will see Christ face to face. Here “the things of earth” “grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”

Bunyan places the country of Beulah near the end of his story. While this is a land that pilgrims can be blessed to visit at various seasons of life, it is especially the dwelling place of older saints—seasoned believers whose days in this life are drawing to an end. The world no longer enthralls them. Doubt and Despair no longer trouble them. Trials are momentary. Eternity looms large in their thinking. We hear the desire of their hearts in the closing words of Scripture:

And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!”
And let him who hears say, “Come!”
And let him who thirsts come.
Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely. …
He who testifies to these things says,
“Surely I am coming quickly.”
Amen.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus!
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
Amen.
(Revelation 22:17, 20–21)

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2019 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

The Cause of Temporary’s Backsliding

Hopeful: Now I have showed you the reasons of their going back, do you show me the manner thereof.

Christian: So I will willingly.

  1. They draw off their thoughts, all that they may, from the remembrance of God, death, and judgment to come.

  2. Then they cast off by degrees private duties, as closet prayer, curbing their lusts, watching, sorrow for sin, and the like.

  3. Then they shun the company of lively and warm Christians.

  4. After that they grow cold to public duty, as hearing, reading, godly conference, and the like.

  5. Then they begin to pick holes, as we say, in the coats of some of the godly; and that devilishly, that they may have a seeming color to throw religion (for the sake of some infirmity they have espied in them) behind their backs.

  6. Then they begin to adhere to, and associate themselves with, carnal, loose, and wanton men.

  7. Then they give way to carnal and wanton discourses in secret; and glad are they if they can see such things in any that are counted honest, that they may the more boldly do it through their example.

  8. After this they begin to play with little sins openly.

  9. And then, being hardened, they show themselves as they are. Thus, being launched again into the gulf of misery, unless a miracle of grace prevent it, they everlastingly perish in their own deceivings.

Backsliding Cliff

Temporary’s falling away is tragic, but it didn’t happen overnight. It was a slow process that little by little eroded his faith and dampened his zeal. Earlier in the allegory, Bunyan portrayed the terrible end of apostasy through the encounter with Turn-Away. Now with Temporary he focuses on how it begins. So how does it happen? How can someone full of zeal and joy in the Lord, fall away? Christian outlines the treacherous progression that turned Temporary around and caused him to backslide.

  1. Backsliding begins by thinking less and less of God and His Word. Temporary knew that Scripture warned against sin and condemned him for his sin, but he found no lasting consolation looking to Christ. He loved sin too much. He lacked the will to resist it. He lacked the power to forsake it. Though he had professed faith in Christ and had convinced all around him that he was turning away from sin, he harbored a delight for sin in his heart. Though he claimed to be a Christian, he discovered that it was simply too hard to live and walk and believe as a Christian in his own strength. Even his outward attempts to do what was right condemned him as a hypocrite and fraud. He was walking toward heaven on his way to hell. He was claiming to know peace, but still felt condemned. Rather than dwell on the unpleasant realities of sin, death, and judgment, rather than ponder his growing guilt and shame, he turned his thoughts away from God and gave his attention to self, living it up, and entertainment.
  2. Backsliding continues by neglecting “private duties.” Prayer becomes less frequent. The Bible sits on the shelf unread. Temporary gave up any pretense of acting like a Christian in private. When temptations came, he guarded his privacy more than his heart. He willingly gave into sin and refused to feel any grief for wrongs he had done.
  3. Neglecting private duties soon affects public associations. Temporary no longer wanted to be around vibrant Christians. He didn’t so much mind those who were struggling or indifferent. But those who were joyful in Christ and growing in God’s Word—these he could not tolerate. Their very presence in his life added to his own feelings of unworthiness and guilt.
  4. Avoiding encounters with growing Christians then chills public duties. Temporary became less concerned with presenting himself as a Christian to others around him, even in public worship. He no longer tried paying attention during the preaching and public reading of Scripture. He was less enthused with participating in corporate prayer and singing. Soon his church attendance fell off altogether.
  5. The backslider then looks to excuse his non-attendance. Temporary justified his actions by “picking holes” in the testimony of others. His dismissed his own hypocrisy by looking for inconsistencies in the lives of church members and attenders. Their infirmities and struggles became his justification for staying away from church.
  6. The loss of church fellowship is filled with worldly association. Temporary no longer felt accepted by the church. They were hypocrites anyway. They couldn’t help him. He didn’t really belong. And so he sought friendship and belonging elsewhere. He joined clubs, went to the gym, helped charities, hung out with co-workers—all the while looking for people with whom he could relate, people he could talk to without feeling put down. He surrounded himself with people who weren’t offended by sin, people who didn’t mind having a little fun and holding on to worldly pleasures. He befriended the world and little by little, the world led him further from God, deeper into sin.
  7. The backslider grows complacent and comfortable with sin in private. Carelessness and prayerlessness opens the way to “carnal and wanton discourses in secret.” Temporary still feared men (what others might think of him), but he no longer feared the Lord. He fell into foolishness and gave into his lusts. He schemed to satisfy his sinful desires and then plotted to keep them hidden.
  8. Sin that takes root in the darkness does not remain hidden. Emboldened by the fleeting pleasure of secret sin, and craving more, Temporary began to sin more openly. Unrestrained by watchfulness and unchecked by those he called his friends, he drifted little by little into a lifestyle of unconcealed, blatant sin.
  9. Unrestrained sin calcifies the heart and deceives the mind. Temporary ended up in a worse state than before he professed faith in Christ. Now he was entrenched in sin and burned out in religion. He had discredited and dismissed the only Way to life and peace with God. He was on his way to “everlasting punishment” yet unconcerned about his soul.

How then can we guard against such a terrible outcome? There are four important lessons we should learn from Temporary’s backsliding:

1) We dare not toy with sin and leave off the means of grace. Nothing can be hidden from God.

The eyes of the Lord are in every place,
Keeping watch on the evil and the good.
(Proverbs 15:3)

 We must guard our hearts and give no place to sin in our lives (public or private). We must continually remember Christ and keep the gospel alive in our thinking. We must daily lay hold of the means of grace: prayer, reading the Bible, fellowship, worship,… God has graciously given ample provision for the good of our souls.

2) We must keep watch for the sake of others as well as ourselves. Bunyan places this lesson near the end of the enchanted ground. Christian and Hopeful are mature believers. When we toy with sin and become spiritually lazy, we not only place our own souls in jeopardy, we endanger others. Young believers are watching us. They are taking their cues from us. If we give sin a foothold, they will see less of a need to resist. If we are not alarmed with sin in our lives, they will be more prone to let down their guard. If we excuse our sin, we will teach them to do so as well.

3) For those who reject God and return to the world, judgment is swift and immediate. Facing the wrath of God in hell for eternity is a real danger for any who cast off their faith, but it is not the beginning of judgment. Paul warns those who know the truth, yet willingly suppress it to hold onto their sin:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools (Romans 1:18–22).

Their hardness of heart is the harbinger of judgment. They become “futile in their thoughts” and can no longer discern right from wrong, good from evil. God gives them up to their sin—to pursue the desires of “their foolish hearts.” They push God from their thinking and sin rushes in to corrupt the mind.

And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them (Romans 1:28–32).

4) Though backsliding is fearful, it does not have to be fatal. Christian concludes that those who have plunged “again into the gulf of misery” will be condemned for eternity “unless a miracle of grace prevent it.” There is none among the living who is beyond the reach of God’s grace. We must pray for those who are backsliding, whose faith seems fleeting and temporary. Pray that God will pursue them with mercy. Pray that He will awaken them to their danger. Pray that their misery and God’s judgment in their lives will be but warning shots across the bow to turn them around and return them to wisdom and the fear of the Lord.

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2019 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

The Fleeting Faith of Temporary

Christian: Well, we will leave, at this time, our neighbor Ignorance by himself, and fall upon another profitable question.

Hopeful: With all my heart, but you shall still begin.

Christian: Well then, did you not know, about ten years ago, one Temporary in your parts, who was a forward man in religion then?

Hopeful: Know him! yes, he dwelt in Graceless, a town about two miles off of Honesty, and he dwelt next door to one Turnback.

Christian: Right, he dwelt under the same roof with him. Well, that man was much awakened once; I believe that then he had some sight of his sins, and of the wages that were due thereto.

Hopeful: I am of your mind, for, my house not being above three miles from him, he would ofttimes come to me, and that with many tears. Truly I pitied the man, and was not altogether without hope of him; but one may see, it is not every one that cries, Lord, Lord.

Christian: He told me once that he was resolved to go on pilgrimage, as we do now; but all of a sudden he grew acquainted with one Save-self, and then he became a stranger to me.

Hopeful: Now, since we are talking about him, let us a little inquire into the reason of the sudden backsliding of him and such others.

Christian: It may be very profitable, but do you begin.

Hopeful: Well, then, there are in my judgment four reasons for it:

  1. Though the consciences of such men are awakened, yet their minds are not changed; therefore, when the power of guilt wears away, that which provoked them to be religious ceases, wherefore they naturally turn to their own course again, even as we see the dog that is sick of what he has eaten, so long as his sickness prevails he vomits and casts up all; not that he does this of a free mind (if we may say a dog has a mind), but because it troubles his stomach; but now, when his sickness is over, and so his stomach eased, his desire being not at all alienate from his vomit, he turns him about and licks up all, and so it is true which is written, “The dog is turned to his own vomit again.” Thus I say, being hot for heaven, by virtue only of the sense and fear of the torments of hell, as their sense of hell and the fears of damnation chills and cools, so their desires for heaven and salvation cool also. So then it comes to pass, that when their guilt and fear is gone, their desires for heaven and happiness die, and they return to their course again.
  2. Another reason is, they have slavish fears that do overmaster them; I speak now of the fears that they have of men, for “the fear of man brings a snare.” So then, though they seem to be hot for heaven, so long as the flames of hell are about their ears, yet when that terror is a little over, they betake themselves to second thoughts; namely, that it is good to be wise, and not to run (for they know not what) the hazard of losing all, or, at least, of bringing themselves into unavoidable and unnecessary troubles, and so they fall in with the world again.
  3. The shame that attends religion lies also as a block in their way; they are proud and haughty; and religion in their eye is low and contemptible, therefore, when they have lost their sense of hell and wrath to come, they return again to their former course.
  4. Guilt, and to meditate terror, are grievous to them. They like not to see their misery before they come into it; though perhaps the sight of it first, if they loved that sight, might make them fly whither the righteous fly and are safe. But because they do, as I hinted before, even shun the thoughts of guilt and terror, therefore, when once they are rid of their awakenings about the terrors and wrath of God, they harden their hearts gladly, and choose such ways as will harden them more and more.

Christian: You are pretty near the business, for the bottom of all is for want of a change in their mind and will. And therefore they are but like the felon that stands before the judge, he quakes and trembles, and seems to repent most heartily, but the bottom of all is the fear of the halter; not that he has any detestation of the offence, as is evident, because, let but this man have his liberty, and he will be a thief, and so a rogue still, whereas, if his mind was changed, he would be otherwise.

Hopeful and Temporary

Christian and Hopeful are nearing the end of their journey across the Enchanted Ground. They have kept alert and resisted spiritual weariness by engaging in “good discourse.” First Hopeful shared his testimony of coming to faith in Christ. Then Christian and Hopeful met again with Ignorance and tried to show him his errors and point him to truth. Their extended conversations underscore the contrast between true faith and false faith. Hopeful, like Christian, has true faith—his hope rests in Christ alone. Ignorance has false faith—his hope is carried by his own “good motions.”

Now Bunyan adds a third contrast—fleeting faith. Christian remembers a former pilgrim named Temporary. His background gives us insight into his spiritual condition. Temporary is from the town of Graceless (he lacks true saving grace) that lies near Honesty (though he tries to live an upright and moral life). He lived next door to Turnback (one who abandoned his faith and returned to the ways of the world).

Temporary was once acquainted with both Christian and Hopeful. Before his brief pilgrimage, when he was troubled by sin and overwhelmed with its consequences, he sought them out for help and for counsel. Christian and Hopeful pointed him to Christ and though Temporary gave some evidence of following Christ at the beginning, his faith was not enduring. When consequences abated and troubles faded, so did his faith.

Temporary is the opposite of By-ends, another fleeting follower of Christ from earlier in the story. By-ends looked to religion for personal gain and affirmation. He attended church during the good times when it was comfortable and fashionable. But when troubles arose and opposition came, he was gone. Temporary looked to religion for counseling and support. He attended church during the hard times when he was plagued with troubles and beaten down with the consequences of his sin. But when troubles subsided and all seemed well, he was gone.

Temporary represents one whose profession of faith is short-lived. Initially he was concerned about his sin, determined to become a pilgrim, and zealous for religion. He sought the Lord with tears. He had a convincing testimony. He renounced sin and expressed sorrow for sin. But despite his best intentions and efforts, he lacked the power to change. Though he gave the outward appearance of repentance, he did not truly repent. His love for sin was muted, but it persisted in his heart and festered in his mind. As a result, his determination to reform was only temporary. Once his guilt faded, he returned to a pursuit of sin.

Why did Temporary backslide? Why did he forsake the faith and fall into apostacy? Hopeful suggests four reasons:

1) Though he was aware of his sin and disturbed by its unsavory consequences, he did not hate his sin. He had no power to resist it. In his heart and mind, he still desired it. All that restrained him was the fear of what might happen as a result of his sin and the shame of being found out. When that fear and shame were strong, he strove to be upright. But when fear and shame diminished, so did his desire to pursue holiness.

2) He feared men more than God. He dreaded the trouble that sin and its consequences might bring in this life, yet thought little of the greater, unceasing terror of facing God’s wrath in eternity.

The fear of man brings a snare,
But whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe.
(Proverbs 29:25)

3) He saw religion as a useful refuge in times of felt weakness and need. But in good times, when he felt confident and strong, he determined that he needed no such crutch.

4) He disliked feeling guilty and ashamed. Because his heart was unchanged, the more he tried to live as a Christian, the more he stumbled and felt bad about himself. The more he failed at gaining victory over sin, the more he suppressed conviction and pushed aside guilt. He lacked grace to look to Christ and so he saw only himself troubled by sin. Rather than feel remorse, he made allowances for his sin. Rather than be continually oppressed with guilt, he gave up thinking about wrath and judgment.

Temporary is one who walks by sight and not by faith. Temptation is more real to him than the way of escape. Earthly sorrows and difficulties are more real that heavenly rest and reward. Temporary desired palpable and obvious relief from his troubles. Rather than trust Christ by faith, he sought more tangible ways to ease his conscience. He befriended Save-self (works righteousness) who convinced him that his religion need not be so radical and self-denying. Soon Temporary gave up going on a pilgrimage and was no longer interested in Christian’s company. Temporary came to the fatal conclusion that by doing things that made him feel good, he could manage his sin, avoid distasteful consequences, and successfully mend his life.

Scripture warns against false teachers who would lead people astray with “great swelling words of emptiness,” convincing those who are still in love with their sin that sin is not so bad, and that sin can somehow be tamed and kept under control.

For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage (2 Peter 2:18–19).

And it warns those who have professed faith in Christ of the great danger of becoming attracted and entangled again in the deadly snares of sin.

For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire” (2 Peter 2:20–22).

Temporary teaches us that feeling ashamed and being sorry for sin are not enough to keep us from returning to sin. Being aware of the consequences of sin, even eternal consequences, is not enough to restrain us from sinning. We must hate sin because God hates sin. Making a convincing start doesn’t guarantee a successful end. Calling Jesus Lord and making an enthusiastic display of religious devotion is not enough to anchor our faith and keep us from falling away. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). We must love Christ, rest in Him alone, and find in Him more delight and satisfaction than anything this world can offer. And this we cannot do apart from God’s grace and the power of His Spirit at work in us.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast (Ephesians 2:8–9).

For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance … (1 Thessalonians 1:5).

May God grant us, by His grace and by the power of His Spirit, true repentance—that we would hate sin and turn from sin, and true saving faith—that we would love Christ and persevere to our journey’s end.

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2019 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Ignorance and the Fear of the Lord

Then Christian addressed thus himself to his fellow:

Christian: Well, come, my good Hopeful, I perceive that you and I must walk by ourselves again.

So I saw in my dream that they went on apace before, and Ignorance he came hobbling after. Then said Christian to his companion, It pities me much for this poor man, it will certainly go ill with him at last.

Hopeful: Alas! there are abundance in our town in his condition, whole families, yea, whole streets, and that of pilgrims too; and if there be so many in our parts, how many, think you, must there be in the place where he was born?

Christian: Indeed the Word says, “He has blinded their eyes, lest they should see”, &c. But now we are by ourselves, what do you think of such men? Have they at no time, think you, convictions of sin, and so consequently fears that their state is dangerous?

Hopeful: Nay, do you answer that question yourself, for you are the elder man.

Christian: Then I say, sometimes (as I think) they may; but they, being naturally ignorant, understand not that such convictions tend to their good; and therefore they do desperately seek to stifle them, and presumptuously continue to flatter themselves in the way of their own hearts.

Hopeful: I do believe, as you say, that fear tends much to men’s good, and to make them right, at their beginning to go on pilgrimage.

Christian: Without all doubt it does, if it be right; for so says the Word, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

Hopeful: How will you describe right fear?

Christian: True or right fear is discovered by three things:

  1. By its rise; it is caused by saving convictions for sin.
  2. It drives the soul to lay fast hold of Christ for salvation.
  3. It begets and continues in the soul a great reverence of God, his Word, and ways, keeping it tender, and making it afraid to turn from them, to the right hand or to the left, to anything that may dishonor God, break its peace, grieve the Spirit, or cause the enemy to speak reproachfully.

Hopeful: Well said; I believe you have said the truth. Are we now almost got past the Enchanted Ground?

Christian: Why, are you weary of this discourse?

Hopeful: No, verily, but that I would know where we are.

Christian: We have not now above two miles further to go thereon. But let us return to our matter. Now the ignorant know not that such convictions as tend to put them in fear are for their good, and therefore they seek to stifle them.

Hopeful: How do they seek to stifle them?

Christian:

  1. They think that those fears are wrought by the devil, (though indeed they are wrought of God); and, thinking so, they resist them as things that directly tend to their overthrow.
  2. They also think that these fears tend to the spoiling of their faith, when, alas, for them, poor men that they are, they have none at all! and therefore they harden their hearts against them.
  3. They presume they ought not to fear; and, therefore, in despite of them, wax presumptuously confident.
  4. They see that those fears tend to take away from them their pitiful old self-holiness, and therefore they resist them with all their might.

Hopeful: I know something of this myself; for, before I knew myself, it was so with me.

Christian and Hopeful

Once again Christian and Hopeful continue the journey, leaving Ignorance to walk behind. They have challenged Ignorance concerning his views of himself, God, how God saves sinners, and how sinners are able to respond to the gospel. As Christian and Hopeful continue their conversation, they lament Ignorance’s spiritual blindness and identify the root of his error. Ignorance fails to grasp the seriousness of his condition because he does not truly fear the Lord.

Though Ignorance desires to go to heaven (the Celestial City) and has embarked on a pilgrimage, he remains blinded by sin and doesn’t sense that his soul is in danger. Christian compares Ignorance to unbelieving Israel who had fallen under God’s judgment.

Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again:
“He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts,
Lest they should see with their eyes,
Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,
So that I should heal them.”
(John 12:39–40)

“Make the heart of this people dull,
And their ears heavy,
And shut their eyes;
Lest they see with their eyes,
And hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart,
And return and be healed.”
(Isaiah 6:10)

Ignorance trusts his heart and believes that he is the source of the good he sees in himself. His wrong assessment causes him to undervalue grace and overvalue his piety. His religious devotion feeds pride in himself rather than praise to God. His pride causes him to fear men (how others see him and what others say about him) rather than God. He is taken aback when Christian and Hopeful cast doubt on his testimony. He takes God for granted and assumes that God is pleased to have him along on the journey.

It is pride that makes us susceptible to worldly fear and immune to godly fear. Worldly fear intimidates and weakens us. It arises from threatening or overwhelming circumstances. It causes us to tremble before men and forget God. It instills anxiety and dread. But godly fear helps and strengthens us. Christian explains how to discern true godly fear:

  1. It arises from conviction of sin, compels us to flee from sin, and helps us see our great need of a Savior.
  2. It removes all confidence in ourselves and drives us to Christ as our only hope.
  3. It instills reverence of God in the soul. Reverence is a spiritual posture of worship that keeps us mindful of God’s presence with us. It is an awareness of God that humbly acknowledges and submits to Him as Creator and Lord of all.

“True or right fear” fears God and not men.

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:28).

It leads to blessing—

Blessed is every one who fears the Lord,
Who walks in His ways.
(Psalm 128:1)

And to confidence and life—

In the fear of the Lord there is strong confidence,
And His children will have a place of refuge.
The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life,
To turn one away from the snares of death.
(Proverbs 14:26–27).

True fear is the beginning of wisdom.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
But fools despise wisdom and instruction.
(Proverbs 1:7)

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
(Proverbs 9:10)

And to man He said,
“Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom,
And to depart from evil is understanding.”
(Job 28:28)

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
A good understanding have all those who do His commandments.
His praise endures forever.
(Psalm 111:10)

Even kings and judges are called to be wise and fear the Lord.

Now therefore, be wise, O kings;
Be instructed, you judges of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear,
And rejoice with trembling.
(Psalm 2:10–11)

But Ignorance does not understand the difference between worldly fear and godly fear. He equates all fear as weakness and a stain on his devotion. He is a false believer who dabbles in religion but shuns conviction. He seeks to stifle fear, even godly fear that could eternally benefit his soul. Christian explains how the ignorant stifle their fears:

  1. They believe all fear is bad and wrongly attribute it to the work of the devil. They see virtue in suppressing fear because they equate it with resisting the devil.
  2. They equate faith with confidence and assurance and see fear as undermining their faith.
  3. They believe that they should “fear not” and so confidently put down their fears.
  4. They want others to see them as spiritually strong and pious. They believe fear makes them weak and less sure of themselves, so they stifle fear in an effort to feel holy inwardly and appear holy outwardly.

We live in a day when many have lost the fear of the Lord. People don’t live from the vantage point that there is a Sovereign God who has created all things and who will one day judge the world. They champion confidence and self-esteem as strength. They disparage humility and fear as weakness. Though they may be religious and acknowledge God’s existence, they try to set their own pace and make their own rules. They imagine their own ideas of truth and justice and hold God in contempt for not making the world the way they believe it should be.

We must not make the same mistake as Ignorance. Godly fear is not weakness. It is wisdom and strength. It anchors us in God and His provision for us in Christ. It leads us to true justice and righteousness found in Christ and His Kingdom. Godly fear is indeed a true treasure.

The Lord is exalted, for He dwells on high;
He has filled Zion with justice and righteousness.
Wisdom and knowledge will be the stability of your times,
And the strength of salvation;
The fear of the Lord is His treasure.
(Isaiah 33:5–6)

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2019 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Ignorance and Divine Calling

Hopeful: Ask him if ever he had Christ revealed to him from heaven.

Ignorance: What! you are a man for revelations! I believe that what both you, and all the rest of you, say about that matter, is but the fruit of distracted brains.

Hopeful: Why, man! Christ is so hid in God from the natural apprehensions of the flesh, that he cannot by any man be savingly known, unless God the Father reveals him to them.

Ignorance: That is your faith, but not mine; yet mine, I doubt not, is as good as yours, though I have not in my head so many whimsies as you.

Christian: Give me leave to put in a word. You ought not so slightly to speak of this matter; for this I will boldly affirm, even as my good companion hath done, that no man can know Jesus Christ but by the revelation of the Father; yea, and faith too, by which the soul lays hold upon Christ, if it be right, must be wrought by the exceeding greatness of his mighty power; the working of which faith, I perceive, poor Ignorance, you are ignorant of. Be awakened, then, see your own wretchedness, and fly to the Lord Jesus; and by his righteousness, which is the righteousness of God, for he himself is God, you shall be delivered from condemnation.

Ignorance: You go so fast, I cannot keep pace with you. Do you go on before; I must stay a while behind.

Then they said:

Well, Ignorance, wilt thou yet foolish be,
To slight good counsel, ten times given thee?
And if thou yet refuse it, thou shalt know,
Ere long, the evil of thy doing so.
Remember, man, in time, stoop, do not fear;
Good counsel taken well, saves: therefore hear.
But if thou yet shalt slight it, thou wilt be
The loser, (Ignorance), I’ll warrant thee.

Christian and Hopeful speak with Ignorance

Ignorance was gravely mistaken in his understanding of justification—how he can be made right with God. But his error extends further to divine calling—how he is able to respond to the gospel and come to Christ in the first place.

For Ignorance, it is no wonder that he is a pilgrim on his way to the Celestial City, for he fails to see the true wonder and amazement of salvation.

Ignorance believes himself to be a man of intellect and reason, capable of setting his own course and making his own choices in regard to following and serving Christ. For him religion is a personal choice—a choice he was wise enough to make.

Hopeful encourages Christian to ask Ignorance if God had ever opened his heart so he could understand the gospel and know Christ savingly. Ignorance thinks such a notion is whimsical and “the fruit of distracted brains.” How can these pilgrims question his devotion or doubt his salvation? See how far he was walked in the Way! He believes in God and wants to go to heaven. He is a religious man who acknowledges the goodness of Christ. He is trying to follow Christ and live according to God’s Law. What need does he have for “revelations”? He has already made it his goal to one day reach the Celestial City.

Ignorance’s error is once again rooted in his underestimation of his sin. He believes he is basically good and has never felt the weight of his sin. He denies that he is blinded by sin or in bondage to sin. His sin, as he compares it to others, is light, so he is perfectly capable of making amends. His religious devotion, blessed by Christ, more than makes up for any wrongs he has done.

Though Ignorance is confident that his faith is “as good as” Hopeful’s, Scripture teaches otherwise. Apart from God’s grace, we are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). We would remain ensnared “in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind” and be under God’s condemnation as “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3), “BUT” for “God, who is rich in mercy” (Ephesians 2:4).

God must open the heart if we are to heed His Word (Acts 16:14). God must give light if we are to escape darkness.

For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6).

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).

Only God can draw us to Himself and grant us salvation in Christ.

All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37).

No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day (John 6:44).

And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father” (John 6:65).

We need the power of God’s Spirit if we are to come to Christ and submit to Him as Lord.

Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3).

We need the power of God’s Spirit to open the eyes of our understanding. Paul prays in Ephesians 1:

that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power (Ephesians 1:17–19).

It is the gracious power of God that calls us, draws us, and saves us. It is not our works—including our own good sense, intellect, or reason. It is all of God—

who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began (2 Timothy 1:9).

God alone can save us and He alone receives the glory.

For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence (1 Corinthians 1:26–29).

Apart from the grace of God, we will continue to walk in ignorance.

This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart (Ephesians 4:17–18).

Christian tells Ignorance plainly that “no man can know Jesus Christ but by the revelation of the Father.” Only God can give sight to the blind, light to those in darkness, and life to those who were once “dead in trespasses and sins.” Yet Christian then calls Ignorance to repent and come to Christ: “Be awakened, then, see your own wretchedness, and fly to the Lord Jesus; and by his righteousness, which is the righteousness of God, for he himself is God, you shall be delivered from condemnation.” Here Christian echoes Matthew 11 where Jesus prays in verses 25–27:

 “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (Matthew 11:25–27).

Jesus affirms in His prayer that the truth of the gospel is hidden to some and revealed to others. God must open the eyes of our understanding if we are to find rest in Christ. But He follows His prayer with a consoling call to repentance and faith.

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30).

Here we see the glorious union of two essential truths: the sovereignty of God (He must give us understanding) and the responsibility of man (we must come to Christ). In Christian’s counsel to Ignorance, Bunyan points us to both truths. We must give God all the glory, for He alone saves. And we must ever plead with men to repent and believe in Christ, “for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
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The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2019 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.